Introduction

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370

Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, was Cristina Garcia's first novel and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel has been critically and academically acclaimed. It is frequently anthologized as well as taught in literature classes. Garcia highlights many themes, such as family, relationships, politics, and spiritualism. The fragmented narrative jumps back and...

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Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, was Cristina Garcia's first novel and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel has been critically and academically acclaimed. It is frequently anthologized as well as taught in literature classes. Garcia highlights many themes, such as family, relationships, politics, and spiritualism. The fragmented narrative jumps back and forth in time, incorporates some epistolary chapters (letters from Celia) and is told from the perspective of multiple narrators: primarily from the three generations of women in the del Pino/Almeida family.

As fragmented as the narrative can be, there is a rhythmic balance, a lucid ebb and flow between the often turbulent events and the lush imagery that describes them. Garcia has stated that the novel began as a poem and this poetic tendency, which might be described as Symbolist and/or Romantic, interweaves relatively seamlessly with Garcia's brand of magical realism, most often associated with the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The story is structured around the Cuban Revolution: the politics, family life, spirituality, and the cultural consciousness of native Cubans and Cuban exiles living in the United States. The four main characters in the novel (Celia, Lourdes, Felicia, and Pilar—women of the del Pino family) have significantly different personalities and different reactions to the revolution. Celia, the matriarch, is an ardent Castro supporter. Her daughter, Lourdes, is a Joe McCarthy-like figure. Celia's second daughter, Felicia, after three doomed marriages, practices Santeria for solace. And Pilar, Lourdes' daughter, is the rebellious teen who turns out to be the psychical bridge between Cuba and the U.S. as well as between Lourdes and Celia. Perhaps one of the most important points in the novel is the diversity and individualism of Cubans and Cuban exiles and the complexity of individual identities in a family which lives between those two worlds (Cuba and the United States...or three worlds if you count the "in-between" world of magical realism where Lourdes talks to her dead father, Felicia becomes a priestess, and Pilar—while living in New York—talks to her grandmother, Celia, who lives in northern Cuba). Pilar's transcendental correspondence with Celia is the primary example of living in one world and dreaming in the other.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 756

Dreaming in Cuban is the story of three generations of a Cuban family, told from a variety of points of view. The story begins with Celia del Pino, an aged woman, watching the waters off the north coast of Cuba with binoculars. She is on guard, devoted to The Revolution and El Lider (Fidel Castro, who is never mentioned by name in the book).

The novel is not told in straightforward, narrative terms, although there is a clear narrative thread running through the story. The book shifts back and forth between scenes, and the narrative is told from a variety of points of view. Some of it is told in the first person by Celia, Lourdes, and Pilar, including a number of extracts from Pilar’s diary. There are also numerous flashbacks to the past, mostly Celia’s past.

One device that is used to re-create the past is a series of letters that Celia wrote over a period of more than two decades. All of these letters were written to Gustavo Sierra de Armas, her first lover, a Spanish lawyer. After Gustavo returned to Europe in 1935, Celia wrote to him monthly up until 1959, when the revolution succeeded and Celia became a dedicated Communist. Throughout the book, Celia speaks of The Revolution (always capitalized when Celia’s point of view is espoused) in the present tense.

Felicia, Celia’s second daughter, still lives in Cuba and never leaves that country; unlike her mother, however, she continuously refers to the present political state of her country as one of tyranny. Felicia is married three times, but never happily. Her first husband, Hugo Villaverde, the father of Felicia’s three children, is never actually seen during the periods covered by the story, although he is alluded to a number of times. In 1966, Felicia threw a burning rag into Hugo’s face, then locked herself and her children in the house.

Felicia marries her second husband, Ernesto Brito, in 1978. Ernesto dies shortly after the marriage in a grease fire. Felicia then blacks out a period of months of her life and finds herself living at an amusement park, married to Otto Cruz. He works at the amusement park and apparently found Felicia wandering aimlessly about the park. She has no memory of the marriage.

Both Celia and Felicia have spent significant periods of time in insane asylums. They also both have regular visions of Jorge Del Pino, Celia’s husband, who died in a New York hospital of cancer just before the story’s beginning. Lourdes and Pilar, in New York, also have recurring visions of this man. He gives all of them advice, although the advice varies according to who is having the vision. All of them are reassured that they are thinking the right thoughts and taking the right actions, even though these actions are at cross purposes.

Lourdes, Celia’s oldest daughter, is a marked contrast to her mother. Lourdes lives in New York with her daughter, Pilar, and runs a bakery. About midway through the book, she opens a second bakery and names her enterprise Yankee Doodle Bakeries. She is an emerging capitalist, and she dreams of a franchise of bakeries throughout the country.

A large part of the book is told by way of Pilar’s diary. Pilar brings the story full circle, in a sense. She is the most obviously American character in the book; she wears jeans and sneakers and plays bass guitar. Nevertheless, she feels much more strongly tied to her grandmother than to her mother. At one point, she gets as far as taking a bus to Miami in hope of finding a way to return to Cuba.

In this sense, Dreaming in Cuban is also a political story. Pilar’s rebellion against her mother ironically brings her to consider atheism and to decide that Communism may not be such a bad idea. The third generation of characters is rather confused. Ivanito, the youngest child, is only thirteen at the closing of the story, and thus of all the characters is least interested in politics. The final scene in the book shows Lourdes taking the boy to Havana, giving him two hundred dollars, and telling him to get out of Cuba.

The novel ends with the last of Celia’s letters, written in 1959, a few weeks after the success of the revolution. Celia celebrates this success, decides to devote the rest of her life to the cause, and thus has no further need to write letters to her former lover.

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